The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)


USA; Clint Eastwood

Parental Guidance – Violence; Sexual Violence

America, 1864. After his family is slayed by rampaging Unionist looters, a tough farmer (Clint Eastwood) joins the Confederate armies. Broken down by his loss, he embraces his new family and rides with them, at the risk of his life, for the lost cause of the South. His name is Josey Wales, and nobody knows anything about his past life, his attachments. All they know is that he is one of the best killers of the West. Josey Wales knows that. And he also knows he want revenge.

As the war touches to an end and Confederate bands all over the country give up the fight, lured by the promise of an amnesty, Wales refuses to surrender. The Northerners, led by cold-blooded Terrill (Bill McKinney), the man responsible for the murder of Wales’ family, launched the manhunt. But given the outlaw’s almost superhuman agility, it is never quite clear who is the prey…

Clint Eastwood is not the type of man – or artist – to fear venturing outside his comfort zone. Unforgiven, the most striking original and morally challenging western of all time, proves it beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, this earlier endeavor is of an altogether less daring breed, failing to rise to the level of expectations the name of Clint Eastwood usually legitimate.

Still, there is charm – and also, to a lesser degree, complexity – to be found in this old-fashioned, classical western. Maybe surprisingly, its main redeeming feature is not Eastwood itself. The man still oozes a keen sense of menace, but his “man of few words” routine seems to lack panache; gone is the Dollar’s understated wit and cool, cynical worldview. Here we are offered only a bland riff on Eastwood’s earlier successes. Chief Dan George, as an aging Indian warrior who teams up with the outlaw, provides most of the entertainment, but preserves intact his dignity and humanity. 

Ultimately, The Outlaw Josey Wales will neither change the rules of westerns nor treat you to the kind of exhilarating violent fun exhibited in more madcap westerns such as The Dollard Trilogy or The Wild Bunch. But maybe this somehow gauche reprise of his early hits was a necessary step in Clint Eastwood’s artistic maturation.  

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